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Athena Ruby Font

Posted On January 09, 2013 | 14:48 pm | by lisaw | Permalink

Many of the objects in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine collection—seals, coins, and silverware—have Greek and Latin inscriptions that exhibit unusual letters, ligatures, and decorations. Because the distinctive shapes of these glyphs are important for interpreting the material, the catalogues published across more than seven decades have been typographically adventurous. Now Dumbarton Oaks is making available a comprehensive OpenType font for the publication of scholarly editions of Byzantine inscriptions. Named after a predecessor font, Athena, and Dumbarton Oaks Publications Manager Glenn Ruby (d. 2004), Athena Ruby is designed to represent Byzantine inscriptions in Latin and Greek, and is suitable to both print and digital publications.

Innovative glyphs from the age of hot metal printing gave way to digital counterparts when Nicolas Oikonomidès, Dumbarton Oaks advisor in sigillography, oversaw the development of Sealshort, the world’s first font for Byzantine inscriptions. His Collection of Dated Byzantine Lead Seals, published in 1986, was intended, in part, to begin a scholarly conversation about using letterforms to date and classify seals. Through the 1990s, Glenn Ruby, Publications Manager from 1980 until 2004, helped develop other specialized Byzantine inscription fonts, most notably Athena (Sealshort’s successor), which has been used by many publishers around the world.

The multiplication of specialized fonts, their confused keyboard layouts, their uneven design, and their incompatibility with Unicode standards motivated Joel Kalvesmaki, Byzantine managing editor at Dumbarton Oaks, to begin work on Athena Ruby in 2010. Designed by Tiro Typeworks as idealized representations of inscriptions found in the geographical area of the Byzantine empire, from approximately 325 to 1453, the more-than seven hundred glyphs provide in a single ensemble all the major letters and variants, ligatures, and decoration. Unicode-compliant and built upon advanced OpenType features, Athena Ruby is suited to a broad range of print and digital publications, from simple, single-author projects to complex ones involving multiple authors and computer platforms.

The principle characteristics of the design are a subtle flaring of stems and a slight contrast between the weight of vertical and horizontal strokes. In curved forms, this contrast translates into a slightly angled nib movement. Where curved strokes meet straight strokes, the curves are tapered to avoid ink gain or the perception of greater weight in the join. Corners are softened by rounding, and terminals are either concave or slightly swelled. These features give warmth to the design, and are also suggestive of the character of many of the seals and coins which either through the process of their manufacture or through wearing are quite “soft.”

Dumbarton Oaks is making the font available to the public for free under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The formal, public unveiling of the font is reserved for this spring, after the stylesheets for the Dumbarton Oaks website are customized to exemplify the advanced features of the font. But anyone can join beta testers and install a pre-publication version of the font. Simply join the Google group for Athena Ruby and follow the instructions.